Arab Joint Military Force Raises Hopes and Questions

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The announcement that the Arab league intends to form a unified military force has produced a swift reaction from regional observers, who, for the most part, have welcomed the initiative. Faced with rapid gains made by a Shia-backed insurgency in Yemen and the specter of Iran’s growing influence in the region, Arab leaders have made the decision that unified action is required. The idea is not new, which is why some observers are reserving judgment until concrete action has been taken. There is a sense among many, however, that even if the Arab League follows through, regional peace will not be secured through military means alone. The consequences of not solving solutions politically, some suggest, could be a “war of all against all.”

The early optimism associated with the announced decision is reflected in an editorial by the Gulf Today staff, who believe “The decision by Arab leaders to form a unified military force to counter growing security threats is a step in the right direction. Though the idea could take months to materialise, considering that the mechanism and logistics of the unified force need to be worked out, the decision will mark a turning point in positively tackling various serious issues….The need of the hour is clear: Arab nations must collectively face various challenges, especially terrorism. There is no doubt that the region continues to face an unprecedented threat to its stability and identity. It is comforting to note that right actions are being initiated by brotherly nations to face the situation.”

Although as the Peninsula’s editorial staff point out, while the idea is not new, maybe it is one whose time has come: “The idea of a joint Arab force has been there for a long time but was lying dormant due to the disparate interests of member countries and the lack of a credible threat which necessitated its activation. But the diplomatic and political landscape of our region is changing and there is an urgency in the air and a realization that a failure to act now could prove costly. New alliances are emerging, old alliances are either strained or fraying and time has come for Arabs to take up the responsibility of protecting their turf from hostile forces.”

But some remain unconvinced about the long term prospects of the initiative, and whether some Arab leaders are really up to the challenges ahead of them. But that , reminds the Khaleej Times staff, should not be an excuse for inaction: “The Arab League meeting in Sharm El Sheikh will long be remembered for the momentous decision of agreeing to create a joint Pan-Arab military force….But the leaders — who met in the Egyptian resort — seemed to be clueless as to how, when and in what manner that military conglomeration will be used….It is now incumbent upon the Arab states to practically implement that decision, and work out its mechanics and logistical aspects as soon as possible. There shouldn’t be any excuse in doing that, as there isn’t any room to cut a sorry figure over it.”

Arab News’ Osama Al Sharif sees in the proposed military force a more effective alternative to the Arab League, which has so far proven unable to provide proper leadership: “Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sissi is pushing his idea of forming a joint Arab force to face common challenges that threaten Arab national security, as he puts it….Details of El-Sissi’s proposal are unclear. He has outlined the challenges that face Egypt and the Gulf states and reiterated his readiness to defend Gulf security. The joint Arab force will most likely be made up of Egyptian troops, with token support from Jordan and other countries. Such an entity will act as a rapid deployment force to thwart possible threats, it is believed…. The Arab League has failed in its mission and is unlikely to transform itself into a potent player in the near future.”

For Linda Heard, meanwhile, the new initiative is proof that Arab states can and will act in the face of the threats they face: “Decisive Storm proves that Arab leaders are able and willing to put their hands together when push comes to shove — and for the first time, they’ve joined forces off their own bat without western coordination. This, more than anything, sends Iran the message, watch out; there’s a new power on the block! It signals a rearrangement of the geopolitical deck chairs, which can only be described as historic….The Arab League has embraced a new era of cooperation and goodwill that goes beyond mutual defense. Leaders, who truly know what’s at stake for their homelands and the resurgent Arab nation, are ready to get proactive.”

Should that prove to be the case, Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi suggests this could be the beginning of a new era and a turning point in the history of the region: “The Arab summit’s resolutions were a…message to the world that Arabs have decided to take the initiative themselves, and a message to the neighboring regional powers that the Arabs will not allow their countries to become bases for other nations’ interests and a bargaining chip in negotiations….When Arab officials clearly articulate their message in this powerful language, it means that they want to assume their nations’ responsibilities without external interference…. Perhaps this decision and the decision to form a joint Arab military force will lead to an Arab regional system that will pave the way for a new Arab regime led by Saudi and the Gulf states, in alliance with Egypt, to protect the Arab countries and ensure the security and stability of their peoples.”

The neighboring regional power Al-Harthi refers to is Iran, whose growing influence in the region has been a cause for concern for the rest of the countries in the region, which is why the Arab Times editorial expresses hope that the proposed alliance may be the only way to balance the rise of the Iranian threat in the region: “Arabs have a chance to show we can actually protect ourselves without relying on the super powers that place their interests ahead of the destinies of nations and peoples….The joint Arab force must become like the Peninsula Shield, and the decision of building up a joint Arab force can be made during the current Arab Summit to save Iraq from the Iranian occupation, so that stability would be restored in Libya, and the unity of Yemen will be sustained. Arabs will then become a difficult figure in all equations in future.”

But the Peninsula’s Khalid Al Jaber believes that, despite needing to prepare for the worst, what the region really needs is a political rather than military solution: “Now, it seems a new coalition is appearing in the region under the leadership and coordination of GCC states led by Saudi Arabia….The features of this alliance are clear in the military and diplomatic preparations and management and execution of Operation Storm Resolve. It is being implemented with efficiency and with no support from regional or international powers except diplomatic and political coordination….What we need is political wisdom because the interests of the Mena region, and the Gulf in particular, lie not in large-scale military confrontations with Iran, which are not expected, but in compromises and political understandings as proxy wars have failed in the region.”

Such a political solution, argues Hisham Melhem in an op-ed for Al Arabiya, will have to come sooner rather than later if we are avoid ‘a war of all against all’: “The fraying or the collapse of the nation-state in the Arab world resulting in civil wars, proxy wars, the emergence of the marauding religious extremists have combined to push the region into a state of ‘war of all against all’….None of the regional sponsors of proxies is powerful enough to establish regional hegemony without serious challenges. There will come a moment in history where Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Israelis, Kurds and others, Sunnis and Shiites, Christian and Jews and atheists will be utterly exhausted before they realize that in a ‘war of all against all’ everyone loses.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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